Nnena Kalu

Nnena Kalu binds and layers materials together. Driven by an instinctive and determined urge to build repeated marks and forms she creates raw and intense artworks. Since 2010 Nnena has created a vast number of sculptural forms of varying sizes; from collections of small, tightly constructed pods and cocoons to large, complex pieces. The frequently ephemeral nature of her work adds to its beauty as it lives in the moment. There is no narrative to Nnena’s work, it is pure form and her compelling, constantly evolving sculptures and installations bring the process of making to life.  Nnena approaches 2D work with the same passion and systematic layering, creating dense layers of colour and shifting lines. Throughout her practice the physical connection to her work whilst making is crucial. Nnena responds to the rhythm and noise of creating so the whole process becomes fully immersive and determines the shape, style and nature of each piece.




Nnena Kalu has developed her artistic practice at ActionSpace’s studio in Studio Voltaire since 1999 and has become an important member of both Studio Voltaire and ActionSpace’s artistic communities. Over 20 years Nnena has created a significant body of work, both sculptural and 2D in the studio and has exhibited nationally and internationally including three major solo exhibitions; an acclaimed solo presentation at Glasgow International in 2018 with Project Ability, a celebrated exhibition at Humber Street Gallery, Hull in 2019 and Nnena’s first major London based solo commission for ‘elsewhere’ Studio Voltaire’s offsite programme in 2020. Nnena worked live in situ for all three solo exhibitions, with sculptural forms in continuous production, being made and remade throughout the live installs. In 2021 Nnena was invited by Yinka Shonibare to create new sculptural work for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and features in the accompanying BBC documentary. She developed 5 new works, re-formed from her previous Studio Voltaire Commission.

Nnena received 3 significant awards in 2021 to develop her professional arts practice. The Mark Tanner Sculpture Development Grant, Paul Hamlyn Awards for Artists and through Studio Voltaire and the Loewe Foundation Nnena has been awarded her own studio at Studio Voltaire for 2 years.

The energy and passion Nnena emits through the process of creating, her methodology and the complex and beautiful installations she creates are fascinating.  The process is pivotal to Nnena but also gives insight for the viewer watching her work build and evolve, giving her practice a living, performative quality. 

Nnena first began developing her live sculptural practice during ActionSpace’s ‘Part of It’ public events for WAF, the Wandsworth Arts Fringe, at the Southside Shopping Centre and in Tooting Market between 2010 – 2012. Nnena further fine tuned her live practice during ActionSpace’s ‘Watch This Space’ events for WAF, creating substantial site-specific installations in public settings at the Southside Shopping Centre in Wandsworth between 2014 -2017. During ‘Watch This Space’ Nnena also became a significant creative role model, sharing her practice with workshop participants invited to create alongside her, inspired by Nnena’s ambitious, physical and accessible sculptural making processes. After leading multiple successful workshops within London’s learning disabled community and at the Welcome Trust Nnena co led TubeLines at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern in 2019, a major multi layered participatory installation combining sculpture, sound and movement alongside ActionSpace artists Linda Bell, Pardip Kapil and Mark Lawrence.

Nnena’s live installations for the Wandsworth Arts Fringe and Studio Voltaire Open Studio events provided the test space for Nnena to develop her unique live art process as part of her sculptural practice which led to Nnena creating large scale site-specific installations in group shows including the ‘Dizziness of Freedom’ exhibition in the Bermondsey project space, 2014, and the ‘Capharnaum’ exhibition at the Theatre De Liege, Belgium in 2016 as part of a group show alongside artists Hendrick Heffnick, Pascal Tassini and Selbermann and Spring Syllabus at J Hammond Projects in 2018. Nnena was also shortlisted for the Spectrum Art prize at the Saatchi Gallery in 2018 and featured on BBC London News. Nnena’s 2D works, significantly her intense drawing pieces have also been widely exhibited with many now held in private collections. Recent exhibitions of 2D work include Outside In: Discover, Cerno Capital 2018 and Environments, Piano Nobile, 2019 and Fair Vanity. Summertime Gallery in New York, 2021. Online, Nnena features in Evolving, Echoing Entities, Jennifer Lauren Gallery 2021 and profiles on the SHIFT website, an online digital platform that exists to give recognition to and amplify the voices and works of learning disabled and neurodivergent visual artists across the UK.

Nnena is currently exhibiting both new sculptural work and 2D pieces in ‘To all the Kings who have no Crowns’ at the Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate. Nnena also created 2 new large-scale drawing works directly in the gallery for the exhibition and will continue to develop the work during a live drawing event.







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